Reporting on the “emerging church” is a slippery matter, somewhat like reviewing a partially written play, or judging a meal by reading recipes.

It is one thing to understand that something new is under way, if only because outside forces make change inevitable in both the Catholic and evangelical Protestant worlds. It is quite another thing to understand what those two words, emerging church, might mean in real circumstances.

Perhaps the need to pin something down, to give form, however incomplete, to such an outsized idea, is why Shane Claiborne has become a highly visible sign of what many call the emerging church, or more audaciously, emerging Christianity. Claiborne himself prefers identifying with a movement that is a kind of subset of emerging Christianity, called “the new monasticism.”

Even that is an inadequate description. Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr describes him as “a third way kind of person.” The Catholic nonviolence community might just call him a Catholic Worker by any other name. Kids in his neighborhood might talk about how awesome he is at juggling and riding a really tall unicycle.

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